2021 Year in Review

Q1 2022 Newsletter Image YIR 1 

2021 was a busy year for SoundEarth Strategies, Inc. (SES) and EHS-International (EHSI), and our combined strength opened several opportunities in the public sector for both firms.

The first half of 2021 brought a win to SES on the King County Open Space On-call Environmental Assessment Services contract, and just this fall, we learned SES was chosen again as one of Seattle City Light’s on-call environmental support consultants. Finally, SES teamed up with Kane Environmental to win the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Ongoing Environmental Services contract.

SES also completed projects on behalf of the following public entities throughout 2021:

  • Jefferson County PUD
  • the City of Seattle
  • the Duwamish Tribe
  • the City of Bothell
  • the Port of Olympia
  • the City of Tukwila
  • Pollution Liability Insurance Agency
  • the City of Gearhart (Oregon)
  • the Port of Seattle.

EHSI also had its share of success in 2021. Following are the highlights:

  • Supporting Greene Economics on the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s (OSPI) Lead in Water Cost Study
  • Completed a COVID-19 Workplace Educational Webinar Series for the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries
  • Won the General Contractor Portwide Small Works On-Call contract for the Port of Seattle
  • Won the Kimball Elementary School Good Faith Survey, Design, and Construction Admin contract with Seattle Public Schools
  • Won the Rainier Beach High School Good Faith Survey, Design, and Construction Admin contract with Seattle Public Schools

From the CEO’s Desk

As we reflect on 2021 and look ahead to new opportunities, we surely will face new challenges (and certainly some continued ones!) in 2022. The new year is about looking forward to many of us; it has always been that way for me. Given how unusual and challenging the past few years have been, though, I feel it is important to look back and thank you for how well you have all responded. Thank you to our employees for continuing to solve problems and overcome the issues we face, regardless of whether they are project-related, administrative, or a result of COVID. There is no doubt that 2021 presented us with a great many challenges, and the pandemic that has affected much of our community continues to present new hurdles for us all. I am extremely proud that 100 percent of you have chosen to be vaccinated. Having received the vaccine and booster myself and then testing positive for what I assume is the omicron variant, I can report that I personally experienced little if any symptoms at all. I’ve heard the same from others around the company. Thank you for adhering to our COVID policies and for looking out for your co-workers (including me!) the way that you have. I also am extremely impressed with how you’ve continued to adapt and stay productive despite the continued shifts in working arrangements, masking requirements, site access issues, collaboration opportunities, and closures/re-openings/more closures throughout our communities. I’ve watched you achieve and exceed our goals despite the challenges we’ve faced, and your commitment to client service and that “get it done” mentality continues to amaze me.

Thank you to our clients for your continued business and trust in us. We know the pandemic has challenged you as well, yet we have continued to see projects pushed forward, new opportunities associated with your continued business interests, and strengthened relationships despite the limits to our in-person interactions. The last few months have been the busiest for us since the pandemic started, and we’re ready for more. As we continue to support more of your work, I assure you that your health and safety during these times will remain a priority, and we will continue to do everything we can to ensure that your projects remain on schedule while safeguarding your employees, sites, and visitors.

Thank you to our communities for continuing to persevere and adapt. We remain committed to improving the environments in which we live and work, and though these days often require more than environmental consulting, the closures we all have experienced remind us of what we all are all working on. We are all battle-tested, and there certainly will be more battles however small or large. Regardless of weather issues, supply chain problems, inflation, labor shortages, “the Great Resignation”, and yes, the new variants yet to come, it feels more than ever that we got this!

Thank you all, and I wish you a happy, healthy, and fulfilling 2022!

-Nim Desai CEO

Biden Administration refocuses federal environmental priorities on PFAS

With the change in the White House comes new priorities and new areas of focus. In the arena of federal environmental policy, Environmental Business Journal (EBJ) analyzes how these changes in priorities impact environmental markets. It is no secret that the Biden Administration ranked critical climate issues higher on the federal priority list than the former Trump Administration, and EBJ’s recent survey demonstrates the dichotomy between each administration’s approach to the environment. Among the Biden Administration’s top priorities are PFAS and other emerging contaminants, which were absent among the Trump Administration’s priorities. Per and Polyfluroalkyl Substance, or PFAS, represents a very large family of man-made chemicals which vary in their chemical and physical properties and pose a risk to human health and the environment. PFAS compounds are released to the environment through industrial processes, their use in consumer products, and firefighting foam.

According to SoundEarth Strategies’ Principal Geochemist Tom Cammarata, PFAS compounds are ubiquitous in the environment due to their solubility and resistance to degradation once released to the environment. Trace levels of PFAS have been identified globally in the environmental media.

In the early 2000’s, the US EPA identified PFAS as a contaminant of emerging concern, but until this April, little movement had been made to designate PFAS compounds as hazardous substances regulated under CERCLA, RCRA, and Clean Air and Water Acts. Cammarata points out that since PFAS compounds are not yet designated as hazardous substances, the U.S. EPA and state governments have not yet established cleanup levels for PFSA compounds but have established screening levels for some environmental media.

The Biden Administration’s renewed focus on PFAS gives hope to some that it might lead to renewed focus on PFAS Toxicity Assessments and the PFAS Action Plan. In April, the EPA updated the PFAS toxicity assessment and also recommitted to the PFAS Action Plan with the goal of developing reliable and consistent laboratory methods of detecting and identifying PFAS in drinking water. The Administration made a budget request of $75 million to accelerate toxicity research intended to support the designation of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) as hazardous substances. There also is an active legislative effort to pass comprehensive PFAS legislation. This summer the US House of Representatives passed the PFAS Action Plan of 2021, which is the most comprehensive federal PFAS bill developed to date. Though not taken up by the Senate yet, this legislation would do the following:

  • Establish national drinking water standards under the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974)
  • Designate PFAS as a hazardous substance under CERCLA
  • Designate certain PFAS as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act (1970)
  • Create labeling requirements regarding a product’s PFAS content
  • Establish CWA effluent limitations, pretreatment standards, and water quality criteria

Still, the future of the PFAS Action Plan of 2021 remains to be seen. Some predict this administrative and legislative focus change will have little impact on businesses, but some economists and pro-business groups caution businesses from turning a blind eye. First, the plan strengthens the EPA’s ability to take regulatory action on all PFAS compounds when it comes to the following: drinking water, industrial effluent discharge, air pollution, and land-based environmental pollution. This includes the 97 chemicals and 12 microbial contaminants on the EPA’s Contaminant Candidate List 5.

Many of these contaminants are used by businesses and industries every day, not to mention the waste management companies and businesses generating industrial waste. How they dispose of waste ladened with these contaminants – whether they created the PFAS-contaminated item or not – may become an issue for these businesses moving forward.

Second, property owners may become responsible for PFAS contamination on their property whether their business caused the contamination or not. Under the plan, there is a concern circulating that local and state agencies may require a business to clean up their property at their own expense even if the PFAS contamination was not the result of the business’s operation or if there was no prior knowledge of the contamination.

Finally, many in the water industry – the American Water Works Association, the Water Environment Federation, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, the National Association of Water Companies, the National Rural Water Association, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors – oppose the bill, and they are lobbying the Senate hard to keep the vote on the bill at bay.

With the PFAS Action Plan of 2021 languishing in the Senate at the moment, the fate of the plan, Biden’s administrative priorities, and the future of safer drinking water hang in the balance. Stay tuned.

New Partnership: Soundview Consultants

Soundview Consultants LLC (SVC) has teamed up with SES. Currently, our team is working on a sediment project in Skagit County. This partnership combines the strength of SES’s site and sediment quality investigations with SVC’s land use planning specialty. SVC’s Scientists, Environmental Planners, Wetland Scientists, and Project Managers have extensive training and experience in site planning and design, project coordination, permitting, and management. Their services of focus include:

  • Natural and Aquatic Resource Assessments, including wetland and ordinary high water delineations and site assessments;
  • Environmental Planning, including documentation, code review, and mapping; * Land Use and Regulatory Compliance Services, including site planning to ensure land is being used properly; and
  • Aquatic Permitting, necessary for docks, boat ramps, bulkheads, and other shoreline projects requiring in-water work.

Employee Spotlight: Ryan Bixby

Say hello to Ryan Bixby! Ryan joined our team in 2005 and is currently one of the Managing Principals and Vice Presidents of the firm. He graduated from Whitman College with a degree in geology and has been working as an environmental consultant since 1998. He spent most of that time performing Phase I and II Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs) in support of property transactions. Ryan is a recognized expert in environmental due diligence support for real estate transactions throughout the Pacific Northwest, and his expertise continues to be retained by the legal community and some of the most active developer and property portfolio clients in the region. 

Ryan works closely with our clients to better understand their objectives and make sure the scope accomplishes those goals. “We help interpret the results of our investigations, develop our findings and conclusions, and perform the final review of all our deliverables,” he shared. For the past several years, much of his work has been focused on expert witness projects, something he finds fascinating. “I recently provided expert testimony in federal court, an exciting experience since most environmental cases are resolved before getting to court.”

Outside of work, Ryan loves to spend time with his wife and two young adult children, one of whom is about to graduate from college and the other is about to start. “Pre-pandemic, we took extended trips to places like Mongolia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as other closer but incredibly beautiful places like Banff,” Ryan reminisced. Although they have remained closer to home during the pandemic, his family has spent their time camping and on the family farm on Whidbey Island. Fun fact: Ryan also loves to fly fish – especially in Montana.

When asked what he likes most about working at SoundEarth Strategies, Ryan said his answer will always be the people. “I love the tremendous variability of my workload, which keeps me on my toes by staying informed on a wide range of topics.” He enjoys interacting with our clients, especially those which he has been partnered with before. “I love spending time preparing or reviewing reports that help resolve challenging environmental issues, but none of that would be possible without the amazing group of people with whom I work,” Ryan said.

Have questions about environmental site assessments or due diligence surrounding real estate transactions? Connect with Ryan by emailing rbixby@soundearthinc.com or meet the rest of the SoundEarth Strategies team by visiting http://www.soundearthinc.com/people.